Three years ago, as I sat in a cozy coffee shop writing a Huffington Post entry on the Syrian Civil War that remains depressingly relevant today, people died in Syria. They died for no other crime than that of being more human than their executioners. They died, and the world did nothing. Our country did nothing. As masked men strode through Houla and Idlib and Homs and Latakia, as they raped wives and killed husbands, as they pressed cold guns against the soft hair of children whom parents had coddled only a small while before, the world watched.
The thought that it is in human nature to push a pistol against a child’s head and to squeeze the trigger is terrifying. Yet this is happening even today, now, as I sit here typing this new entry in a new coffee shop—privileged—and as you sit reading my words. Indeed, Secretary of State John Kerry recently admitted that this greatest form of theft—murder—has become so targeted as to constitute genocide.
This genocide is being dealt by ISIS, an unprecedented cancer that’s metastasized since that last article. That the Syrian conflict has radicalized in this way is the result of a shameful yet understandable five-year silence. It’s a silence that immobilizes us humans when we see something we know to be wrong, and when we sense hatred that is too strong to comprehend. It’s the silence of the countries that bore witness to the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the silence of my younger self on the playground when I watched others be bullied for fear that if I intervened I, too, would be shamed.
Now, as ISIS monsters stride through villages, crucifying Christians and burning Yazidis and erecting slave markets the likes of which we’d all thought banished to a too-dismal past, the world’s silence has grown so loud as to be deafening. We are standing by as genocide strikes. We—we Russians, we Iranians, we Chinese, we Saudis, we Turks, we Europeans and, yes, we Americans—are putting our national interests above human life. We’re allowing the ISIS monster to consume more land, more humans, more souls, to consume indeed the very soul of a religion itself. Enough already! Enough.
“But the international community isn’t silent!” you say. “Kerry just called out ISIS for genocide!” Please. Does the world condemn ISIS? Yes. But talk is worthless without meaningful action. Secretary Kerry’s determination—finally—that ISIS is committing genocide is welcome but toothless. We are loud with our voices, yet we are silent in the only way that matters. You can’t stop genocide with words and drone strikes.
Still: The State Department acknowledged an ongoing genocide for the first time since 2004. This should be a first step towards more concrete action. No, there are no easy solutions; yes, the path will be hard, speckled with potential missteps. We must not repeat the blunder of unilateral action. But an effective international military coalition—which we should encourage more forcefully—is desperately needed. There’s just too much at stake to “let things play out.”
We know how letting things play out ended in 1994.